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Worried About Your Forgetfulness? This Will Put You At Ease

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This is a writeup on a recent  article in entitled “Worried about your forgetfulness?  This Harvard-trained neuroscientist may put you at ease”.

What, you lost your glasses — again?
And you have no idea where you parked your car?
Can’t remember the name of your favorite sitcom ?  You feel that it’s on the tip of your tongue but you just can’t quite remember it?


“Don’t worry about it”
says Lisa Genova,  a Harvard-trained neuroscientist who  is the author of five bestselling novels, all centering on people with brain maladies.  Such minor forgetfulness is pretty normal”.   (“Still Alice”,  Genova’s bestselling novel about a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, was made into an Academy Award-winning film.)


What is “normal forgetting”?
People don’t know what normal forgetting is.  When we’re 20, we don’t care, but by the time we reach age 50 we start getting really scared and anxious about it.


How we remember, how we forget, and what we can do to improve our memory
During a recent Zoom presentation to an audience of more than 750 people, hosted by the Friends of the Hennepin (Minn.) County Library, Genova then set out to explain how we remember and how we normally forget and what we can do to improve our memory.


On why we forget things
The No. 1 ingredient for creating a memory that’s going to last beyond the moment is attention. You cannot remember something if you don’t pay attention.    You’re only going to keep what you pay attention to.  So when your keys go missing or your phone or your glasses — and we do these things every day — this likely doesn’t involve your memory at all.   This is a symptom of distraction — you did not pay attention to putting your glasses here.


On the different kinds of memory
There’s the memory for the stuff we know, the facts and information, like the things we learn in school. And there’s the memory for the things that happen, the episodic memory.   This is the story of your life. There’s muscle memory, which doesn’t actually live in your muscles but lives in your brain. This is the stuff you can do — ride a bike, brush your teeth, drive the car. There’s also the memory for what you plan to do later.

Regarding events in episodic memory , that will change over time with every time I retell the event. Every time I recall it, I have an opportunity to add something to it, subtract something.   Maybe my mood is different now and I can interpret it differently.   Maybe I heard something on the news related to this thing that happened.    When I restore that memory, the new memory is what gets stored and it overwrites the old memory.  And that’s OK!


On memory games
The way to improve your memory is not through brain games and crosswords. You’ll get better at doing those brain games and you’ll get good at crosswords, but you won’t then get a better memory in your day-to-day life.    As earlier stated, the No. 1 ingredient for creating a memory that’s going to last beyond the moment is attentionThat’s how you get a better memory.


On the importance of sleep
Sleep is super important for your memory. Events are being consolidated into a lasting memory while you sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, the hippocampus might not have enough time to do its job.

While you sleep, the glial cells (the janitors of your brain) do their job while you sleep. They clear away the metabolic debris that accumulated during the business of being awake. And one of the things they clear away is amyloid beta. And if amyloid beta isn’t cleared away, it’ll stick to itself and form plaque. That is the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease.


On stress and memory
Stress will prevent your brain from remembering.   Chronic stress is super bad for memory.   Exercise, even a brisk walk every day, can save our hippocampus (Yoga, meditation, deep breathing).

If you close your eyes and breathe in to the count of four, through your nose, it will calm everything down.   Do this several times throughout the day.


On giving in and using Google
If you can’t remember something, Google it.    People think that, if they Google it, it’s cheating.   It’s not. It does not make your memory stronger by forcing yourself to remember it, and you do not make your memory weaker by googling it.

Remember…a normal glitch in your memory doesn’t mean you’re getting Alzheimer’s.


We hope you enjoyed reading this blog and will consider using the advice in this article.  Please leave us a comment if you enjoyed the blog.


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Comments (2) on "Worried About Your Forgetfulness? This Will Put You At Ease"

  1. I love your #1 reason that we forget things – it’s because we’re not paying attention.  This is so true!  Most of us are so busy and have so much going on in our minds that we just cannot keep up.  That’s not our fault and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over it.  Instead, I think if we are mindful and intentional in how we go about our day, memory issues could be greatly improved.  This will also help with the stress that contributing to memory loss.  

    1. Thanks for your comment, Molly.  Yes, I completely agree that we normally don’t pay enough attention to what’s going on around us and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about it.  Making an effort to pay attention to what’s going on around us should greatly improve our memory.  Glad you can use some of the memory tips in this article.  Please let us know how they work out for you.

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